Buprenorphine: A Powerful Pain Reliever for Pets


If your furry friend is in pain, you want to provide them with relief as quickly and effectively as possible. Buprenorphine, a potent opioid analgesic, is a medication used to treat pain in animals. In this article, we’ll explore what buprenorphine is, how it is administered, potential side effects, and important considerations to keep in mind.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine, also known by various brand names such as Buprenex®, Simbadol®, Belbuca®, Vetergesic®, Buprenodale®, Sublocade®, Suboxone®, Subutex®, and Temgesic®, is commonly used to alleviate pain in both humans and animals. While it is primarily prescribed for humans, veterinarians sometimes use it to treat pain in dogs, small mammals, large animals, and occasionally cats. It’s important to note that such usage is considered “off label” or “extra label.”

Administering Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is typically administered orally as a liquid. However, it should not be swallowed. Instead, it should be carefully squirted into the side of the mouth, either into the cheek pouch or under the tongue, allowing for absorption through the oral mucosa. Liquid doses should be measured precisely due to the drug’s potency. In certain cases, buprenorphine may also be administered through injection in a hospital or clinic setting. Veterinarians may even instruct pet owners to administer injections at home, in which case it’s crucial to follow their instructions diligently.

Rapid Relief and Potential Side Effects

Once administered, buprenorphine takes effect within 1 to 2 hours, providing quick relief from pain. However, it’s essential to be aware of potential side effects. The most common side effect is sleepiness, and injections into the muscle can cause pain at the injection site. In dogs, rare side effects may include agitation, abnormal heart rate, vomiting, low body temperature, or high blood pressure. Cats may experience behavior changes, increased heart rate or body temperature, or vomiting, although these occurrences are infrequent. Serious side effects are uncommon but can include severely decreased breathing rate. Horses and rabbits may experience slower gastrointestinal movements. It’s worth noting that the effects of buprenorphine typically last up to 24 hours, but in pets with liver or kidney disease, the medication’s impact may endure for an extended period.

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Factors to Consider and Drug Interactions

While buprenorphine is generally safe, there are specific risk factors to be aware of. It should not be administered to pets allergic to opioids or buprenorphine specifically, nor to those undergoing treatment with amitraz (e.g., Mitaban®, certain flea collars). Caution is advised when using buprenorphine in pets with low thyroid levels, liver disease, bile disease, heart and/or lung disease, kidney disease, Addison’s disease, or in very young, old, or debilitated animals. Additionally, it should be used with extreme caution in pets with head trauma or other nervous system dysfunction, as well as in pregnant or lactating animals due to limited research on potential effects.

When administering buprenorphine, it’s crucial to inform your veterinarian about any other medications your pet may be taking, including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies. Certain drugs, such as local anesthetics, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, or tramadol, may interact with buprenorphine and should be used with caution.

Monitoring and Storage

To ensure the medication’s effectiveness, your veterinarian may monitor your pet’s response to buprenorphine treatment. It’s essential to keep an eye out for any adverse side effects, particularly related to heart function and breathing.

Proper storage is also vital. Buprenorphine should be stored at room temperature, between 20°C and 25°C (68°F and 77°F), protected from light, excessive heat above 40°C (104°F), and freezing. If you have compounded forms of the medication, follow the storage instructions on the label.

Emergency Situations

In case of an overdose or adverse reaction to the medication, it is crucial to contact your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions on how to reach an emergency facility without delay.

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Buprenorphine provides a powerful tool for managing pain in pets. However, it’s essential to adhere to your veterinarian’s instructions closely and be vigilant for any potential side effects or interactions. With the right approach, buprenorphine can bring much-needed relief to your beloved furry companion.

For more information about buprenorphine and its usage, visit Katten TrimSalon.